Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim
All religions teach one basic discipline-the removal from the mind
of the blemish of egoism, of running after little joys.
—Sathya Sai Baba
Is there anything more basic to living than breathing, standing, walking and sitting? Does anyone get any education, training, guidance, modeling or rehearsal in doing any of these actions? Who could honestly answer these questions affirmatively? At the same time, awareness of just this can be a great springboard to discovering, realizing. and embodying these basics of living into our lives today. This writing is not an authoritative account on how to do each in the best, most healthy and pleasing way. This one makes no claim to know, other than I know that I do not know, like Socrates famously and repeatedly declared. At the same time, in decades long work with clients experiencing chronic pain, consulting chiropractors, masseuses, body workers, and personal coaches, along with investigating these subjects, it is now clearer what does not work and some directions and pointers to what does work.
First and foremost in observing the basics of living—breathing, standing, walking and sitting—notice how engagement of the ego-self or rational mind as an imaginary sense of self in “running after little joys” only creates resistance, negativity, complications, dysfunction, self-defeating behavior and confusion. Notice how when the mind seems to be absent, disengaged or off-line given non-reactivity, equanimity, and lack of energy, activity and interest in it, this opens up “enjoying the big joys” of a flexible, relaxing spaciousness, a natural openness and welcoming of “what is” or reality of this moment.
Crystallized and summarized, here is what’s been gleamed about the basics or fundamentals of living.
Breath is Spirit. The act of breathing is Living.
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Beginning with the act of breathing, watch how you breath and how others breath. Often it is challenging to see anyone consciously and deeply breathing at all. Most often you will notice almost imperceptible short, shallow breaths with yourself and others. When in shock, defensiveness, or simply stressed, it is very common for people to hold their breaths, that is, not really breath at all! Shallow upper chest breathing is the norm in this world. Given that breath is the source of all our body’s oxygen for proper respiration, along with functional brain, circulatory, ambulatory and muscular functioning, it is rather astonishing how little awareness goes into the act of breathing and how little oxygen seems to get into our lung. Author Michael Brown makes the extraordinary statement that human beings are “…in the habit of using less than 20% of our lung capacity.” 1 Given the fact that the diaphragm does about 80% of the work of breathing, it makes sense that people not using their diaphragm to breath would only be using less than 20% of their lung’s capacity. Oxygen is essential for life and it would seem equally essential to being present. It would not be too surprising if presence itself requires more oxygen. Michael Brown recommends a 15-minute breathing session/exercise of slow “consciously connected breathing” (not to be confused with hyperventilating) twice daily to aid presence, balance and health.
One remarkably simple approach to experience diaphragmatic breathing is to place you hand flat on your stomach while sitting or lying down. Breath deeply in and let your belly fill up and expand, then gently let the breath go with your abdomen naturally going flat again. Do this repeatedly until it is as first nature as a baby’s breath. Writer Jeffrey Rossman makes the case that as a baby we all knew how to naturally breath well. You see the baby’s belly rise and then fall with every breath it takes. Here is diaphragmatic abdominal or deep belly breathing. A full natural breath moves the diaphragm, a relatively thin sheath of muscle just below your lungs, up and down. A flexible moving diaphragm easily moves up and down in being fully engaged in slow, deep, full breathing. The experience is one of relaxed presence and vital energy coursing through you. When fully engaged in the act of breathing, the lungs can expand to twice the volume when compared to breathing without the full engagement of the diaphragm. While shallow upper chest breathing may be experienced as anywhere from 16 to 22 short breaths per minute, deep belly or diaphragmatic breaths can be experienced as anywhere from 3 to 7 deep relaxing breaths per minute through breath training. 2 Straightforward diaphragmatic breathing techniques like this one, in both supine and sitting positions, are easily available. 3
Deep abdominal or diaphragmatic (named after moving our diaphragm) breathing is generally considered a healthier and fuller way to ingest life-giving oxygen and is associated with broad health, especially longevity and cardiovascular health. It provides many health benefits including lowered stress, triggering the relaxation response, improved stamina, boosting energy, helps digestion, benefits the urinary endocrine and nervous systems, helps us to ground and center, enhances cardiovascular/ circulatory system and strengthens the immune system. This form of breathing contrasts with shallow, chest or upper chest breathing which does a poor job of oxygenating our lungs, brains and bodies, yet most people engage in upper chest breathing most of the time. 4 Consider what happens when you laugh. Some people tend to stifle, muffle, cover up, hide or otherwise constrict their natural laughter. Under such conditions how could the diaphragm get engaged and moving freely? However, when you laugh heartily, big unconstrained belly laughs, don’t you vigorously move your abdomen and diaphragm up and down? You could even call deep belly laughs “inner jogging” given how big belly laughs naturally exercise the abdomen.
What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing.
—C. S. Lewis
What are the basics or fundamentals of standing? Since so much of life is spent standing, especially at a whole array of jobs in the work sector, such as in retail sales, blue collar jobs, manufacturing, and being a waiter, janitor, gardener and laborer, what is proper and improper standing posture? Actually proper posture is essential to health and poor posture can lead to a host of physical issues, such as back, neck, shoulder, elbow, hip and knee pain, being bent over or hump backed, and psychological issues, including impacting effectiveness in one’s occupation and personal life, stress reactions to pain, anxiety, depression, anger, relationship dysfunctions, unhappiness, and emotional and behavior reactivity.
Good proper posture, in contrast to poor posture, actually uses less energy because the body’s muscles do not have to work so hard, the person looks and feels better, maintains fine muscle elasticity and balance, and it is less stressful and taxing for the body overall. Good posture is reputed to prevent backache and muscular pain, prevent strain and overuse problems, prevent fatigue, prevent the spine from becoming fixed in abnormal positions, decreases stress on ligaments, helps decrease the abnormal wear of joint surfaces that can result in arthritis, and keeps bones and joints in correct alignment to allow muscles to function properly. 5 It wouldn’t be all that surprising that research findings may someday show innumerable other physical and psychological health benefits of maintaining excellent posture.
What is the natural position for the body when standing? Proper posture is certainly neither leaning forward, so-called “forward head syndrome”, nor leaning backward. Both throw the body off kilter and off-balance. It is only when the person’s whole body, that is, their head, neck and torso, are in alignment, relatively vertical and in-line, does the body support itself with the least expenditure of energy or effort. Author A. Lynn Miller mentions that a classic test of good posture is to see whether a vertical line can pass through the ear, tip of the shoulder, middle of the hip, and front of the ankle. Also, standing up against a wall with your heels against it or within a few inches of it is another simple test. With proper posture, your buttocks, shoulder blades and back of the head are all touching the wall and your face is looking neither up or down but purely straight ahead. 6 When the hips are straight over the legs forming a solid center or foundation for the entire upper body, the chest precedes or is in front of the chin, and the head is held high, proper posture is readily apparent.
Of psychological and relationship interest is the observation that when people stand and walk using proper posture, people seem to perceive them as more confidant, self-assured and knowledgeable in my experience. While excellent posture may feel unnatural at first, with being conscious and ever adapting the body to fine posture, it becomes habitual and just the way you do your standing life.
The press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections.
Walking seems so natural to human beings that it is curious to consider whether anyone knows how to do this wisely in regard to health and well being. Consider walking as taking proper posture into motion or perambulation with a confidant long stride. What NOT to do is clear: 1) avoid having your chin precede your chest; 2) avoid having your shoulders and hips be vertically not lined up by leaning forward or backward; 3) avoid walking on the heels or sides of your feet; 4) avoid pointing your toes outward like a duck or inward which would look a bit strange; and 5) avoid doing shallow upper chest breathing. The keys for proper walking seem to be five: 1) chest preceding chin; 2) shoulders and hips vertically in-line or straight alignment; 3) walk on your toes; 4) keep your feet pointed straight ahead of you; and 5) do rhythmic diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing—long, slow, deep breaths.
Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.
So much of modern life demands sitting, especially in chairs at desks in front of screens, whether it is in front of televisions, table computer or laptop computer screens, and while eating, conversing, working, writing, or watching movies. How does one sit properly and put the body at ease? The basics of sitting is to have a back supportive, straight-back chair that you can tuck your fanny into, keep your back and the spine relatively straight, have no limbs like legs, ankles and arms crossed, and keep your feet squarely and flatly on the floor. According to the United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), a good working position while sitting is a “neutral body positioning”, that is, placing the body in a neutral position in which the joints are naturally aligned reduces strain and stress on the skeletal system, tendons and muscles, thereby reducing risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).
Specifically for working at a computer workstation, OSHA recommends an upright sitting position that has the torso and neck nearly in-line and vertical, thighs nearly horizontal, and lower legs again vertical. What is to be avoided in sitting by OSHA is both declined and reclined sitting postures. In the declined sitting posture, the thighs are inclined with the buttocks higher than the knee and the angle between thighs and torso greater than 90 degrees (i.e., leaning forward). Here the torso is vertical or somewhat reclined and the legs are vertical. In reclined sitting posture, the far more common error, the torso and neck are straight and recline (i.e., leaning back) between 105 and 120 degrees from the thighs.
OSHA guidelines to maintain neutral body postures in working at a computer workstation (and supposedly sitting while in front of a keyboard and screen) state the following: head is level or slightly forward, balanced and in-line with screen, shoulders stay relaxed with upper arms hanging normally at the side of the body, elbows stay in close to the body and are bent between 90 and 120 degrees, back is fully supported with fitting lumbar support when sitting vertically or leaning back slightly, with torso, hands, wrists, and forearms are again in-line, straight and approximately parallel to the floor, thighs and hips are supported by a well-padded seat and approximately parallel to the floor, knees are generally the same height as the hips with feet slightly forward, and feet are fully supported by the floor or a footrest. Besides making small adaptive adjustments to your chair or backrest, it is good to stretch your upper body periodically as well as stand up and walk around for a few minutes regularly. Changing your work position frequently throughout the work session and day is recommended. 7 When you bring conscious awareness to the basics of living-breathing, standing, walking and sitting-life works so very much better on all levels. Listen and trust the wisdom of your body and its feedback in making all helpful effective changes by engaging in the basics of breathing, standing, walking and sitting. En-Joy yourself!
Disclaimer: This article is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter. Everything within it is presented with the understanding that the author is not engaged in rendering psychological, health, or medical services. Each reader can best research the topics presented, listen to the feedback of their own bodies, and make their own enlightened choices.
1. Michael Brown, The presence process: A healing journey into present moment awareness. Vancouver, BC, Canada: Namaste Publishing & New York: Beaufort Books, 2005, page 79.
2. Jeffrey Rossman, Breath like a baby: The way you breathe has a powerful effect on your health. Article available online: rodale.com/diaphragmatic-breathing-and-health~
3. Simple diaphragmatic breathing techniques in supine and sitting positions are available online: cchs.net/health/health-info/docs/2400/2409.asp?index=9445 amsa.org/healingthehealer/breathing.cfm pe2000.com/breathe_diaphragm.htm …medicalcenter.osu.edu…diaphragmatic Bbreathing~
4. Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing: Available online: yogaflavoredlife.com/relaxation/6-reasons-to-practice-diaphragmatic-breathing.html ehow.com/how_2163290_understand-benefits-proper-breathing.html
5. Benefits of good posture available online: my.clevelandclinic…posture_for_a_healthy_back~
6. A. Lynn Millar, Action plan for arthritis. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics, 2003, page 164. Online: healthline.com/hlbook/art-posture.
7. United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), Computer Workstations-Good Working Positions. Undated. Available online: osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/positions.html
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